Video: Putting High Speed PCB Design to the Test

Designing circuit boards for high speed applications requires special considerations. This you already know, but what exactly do you need to do differently from common board layout? Building on where I left off discussing impedance in 2 layer Printed Circuit Board (PCB) designs, I wanted to start talking about high speed design techniques as they relate to PCBs.  This is the world of multi-layer PCBs and where the impedance of both the Power Delivery Network (PDN) and the integrity of the signals themselves (Signal Integrity or SI) become very important factors.

I put together a few board designs to test out different situations that affect high speed signals. You’ve likely heard of vias and traces laid out at right angles having an impact. But have you considered how the glass fabric weave in the board itself impacts a design? In this video I grabbed some of my fanciest test equipment and put these design assumptions to the test. Have a look and then join me after the break for more details on what went into this!

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Inductance in PCB Layout: The Good, the Bad, and the Fugly

When current flows through a conductor it becomes an inductor, when there is an inductor there is an electromagnetic field (EM). This can cause a variety of issues during PCB layout if you don’t plan properly, and sometimes we get burned even when we think we have planned for unwanted inductance and the effects that come with them.

When doing high speed logic we need to be able to deliver sudden changes in current to the devices if we want to have proper switching times and logic levels. Unfortunately inductance is usually not a friend in these circumstances as it resists those sudden changes in current. If the high speed devices are driving capacitive loads, which themselves are resisting changes in voltage, even more instantaneous current is needed.

Simply put, inductors resist a change of current, and can act as a low pass filter when in series with the signal or power supply flow. Inductors do this by storing energy in the flux surrounding the conductor. Alternatively capacitors resist a change in voltage (again by storing energy) and can act as a high pass filter when in series with the signal. This makes them a valuable tool in the fight against unwanted inductance in power supply distribution.

In the video below, and the remainder of this article, I’m going to dive into the concept of inductance and how it affects our design choices when laying out circuit boards.

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How to Do Beautiful Enclosures with Custom Fiberglass

There are times when I feel the need to really make a mess. When I think of making messes with a degree of permanency, I think of fiberglass. I also really like the smell, reminds me of a simpler time in 8th grade shop class. But the whole process, including the mess, is worth it for the amazing shapes you can produce for speaker pods and custom enclosures.

Utilizing fiberglass for something like a custom speaker pod for a car is not difficult, but it does tend to be tedious when it comes to the finishing stages. If you have ever done bodywork on a car you know what kind of mess and effort I am talking about. In the video below, I make a simple speaker pod meant for mounting a speaker to the surface of something like a car door.

You can also use a combination of wood and fiberglass to make subwoofer cabinets that are molded to the area around them. You can even replace your entire door panel with a slick custom shaped one with built in speakers  if you’re feeling adventuresome.

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Building an OBD Speed Pulse: Behold the ICE

I am a crappy software coder when it comes down to it. I didn’t pay attention when everything went object oriented and my roots were always assembly language and Real Time Operating Systems (RTOS) anyways.

So it only natural that I would reach for a true In-Circuit-Emulator (ICE) to finish of my little OBDII bus to speed pulse generator widget. ICE is a hardware device used to debug embedded systems. It communicates with the microcontroller on your board, allowing you to view what is going on by pausing execution and inspecting or changing values in the hardware registers. If you want to be great at embedded development you need to be great at using in-circuit emulation.

Not only do I get to watch my mistakes in near real time, I get to make a video about it.

Getting Data Out of a Vehicle

I’ve been working on a small board which will plug into my car and give direct access to speed reported on the Controller Area Network (CAN bus).

To back up a bit, my last video post was about my inane desire to make a small assembly that could plug into the OBDII port on my truck and create a series of pulses representing the speed of the vehicle for my GPS to function much more accurately. While there was a wire buried deep in the multiple bundles of wires connected to the vehicle’s Engine Control Module, I have decided for numerous reasons to create my own signal source.

At the heart of my project is the need to convert the OBDII port and the underlying CAN protocol to a simple variable representing the speed, and to then covert that value to a pulse stream where the frequency varied based on speed. The OBDII/CAN Protocol is handled by the STN1110 chip and converted to ASCII, and I am using an ATmega328 like found on a multitude of Arduino’ish boards for the ASCII to pulse conversion. I’m using hardware interrupts to control the signal output for rock-solid, jitter-free timing.

Walk through the process of using an In-Circuit Emulator in the video below, and join me after the break for a few more details on the process.

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Bil Herd Asks OBD “How Fast am I Going?”

Whenever I end up with a new vehicle I ultimately end up sticking in a new GPS/Receiver combination for better sound quality and a better GPS.

I am quite at home tearing into a dashboard as I was licensed to install CB radios in my teens as well as being the local go-to guy for 8-track stereo upgrades in the 70’s. I have spent a portion of my life laying upside down in a puddle on the car floor peering up into the mess of wires and brackets trying to keep things from dropping on my face. If you remember my post on my Datsun 280ZXT, I laid in that same position while welding in a clutch pedal bracket while getting very little welding slag on my face. I did make a note that the next time I convert a car from an automatic to a manual to do so while things are still disassembled.image15

Swapping out a factory radio usually involves choosing whether to hack into the existing factory wiring wire-by-wire, or my preference, getting a cable harness that mates with the factory plug and making an adapter out of it by splicing it to the connector that comes with the new radio.

Usually I still have to hunt down a few signals such as reverse indicator, parking brake indicator, vehicle speed sensor and the like. In my last vehicle the Vehicle Speed Sensor (VSS) wire was supposed to be in the factory harness, but driving experience showed it must not be as the GPS would show me driving 30 feet to the right of the highway. That and the calibration screen on the GPS verified that it was not receiving speed pulses.

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Compiling a $22 Logic Analyzer

On my way to this year’s Hackaday SuperConference I saw an article on EE Times about someone taking the $22 Lattice iCEstick and turning it into a logic analyzer complete with a Python app to display the waveforms. This jumped out as pretty cool to me given that there really isn’t a ton of RAM on the stick, basically none that isn’t contained in the FPGA itself.

[Jenny List] has also written about the this application as created by [Kevin Hubbard] of Black Mesa Labs and [Al Williams] has a great set of posts about using this same $22 evaluation board doing ground up Verilog design using open source tools. Even if you don’t end up using the stick as a logic analyzer over the long haul, it’ll be very easy to find many other projects where you can recompile to invent a new purpose for it.

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Megasquirting My 1983 Datsun Z

When Dinosaurs Drove to Work

Back in the mid 1980’s I worked at a company called Commodore Business Machines, a company that made home computers where our annual Superbowl was the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas the first week in January.

Some time in November a Datsun Z would get parked in the front lot and then not move until whatever snow mounds that got plowed over it melted sometime in early spring. Ultimately I would have it towed leaving behind a sad little pile of rust and nuts and bolts. With a bonus check in hand for finishing the newest computer on time I would go buy another used Z and repeat the cycle.

Climate Change and Rust

These days the old Datsun Z’s; 240Z, 260Z, 280Z, 280ZX, are somewhat rare, probably because they were real rust buckets even when new. After having sacrificed a few myself in search of the next home computer I set out to rescue one for old times’ sake. I really did love the car so I made it my project to restore one. Now I have a total of three Z carcasses, an engine, and a transmission all sitting out back and an almost finished Z in the garage.

Since I had torn the engine down to its bare components I took the opportunity to make some changes: increased the size of the turbocharger, increased bore and stroke of the cylinder/piston, improved the fuel distribution, and improved the flow of air with things like porting the heads and an inter-cooler.

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